Dr Jimanze Ego -Alowes is a developmental economist and public intellectual who specialises in the art of power and politics. An eclectic scholar and author of several books dealing with the subject, he currently runs a column, Turf game, with the Sun Newspaper every Thursday. In this interview with Thisage, a follow-up to the short but informative article on the power game unfolding in the build up to the 2019 general elections, he expatiates on the fluid nature of power and alliances and posits that voting is tribal and there is yet to be a Nigerian nation. Excerpts:
How do you look at the politics of 2019?
It is a bit funny. One thing is clear. Buhari has command of all the security apparatus, INEC and people say his region and religion. There is a saying that the man with the gun is a majority. But in terms of voting and if the opposition gets it acts right and do not throw their egos around, Buhari is defeat able. Things were bad before he came in, but his administration has worsened things and therefore he has to be blamed. But for the opposition, no one knows how they will be able to handle it. Let see how it unfolds.
You mean people like ex-President Obasanjo and his third force?
No, people like Obasanjo are moral forces, not electoral forces. You people keep making the same mistake that it was people like him and some generals that determine who gets what in power. It was a tribal union that delivered the 2015 election. That is why Nigeria analyses do not go beyond the spot market. The major tribes decided they did not want a minority man to rule and that was it. That was how they managed to recruit innocent people like Professor Wole Soyinka, who said that Buhari has changed. It was an alliance between Yoruba, Fulani and Hausa and the press was used to universalise it.
But you can see what is happening now, what is working out has proved us right as we said before the polls. If the tribes decide again, that is how it would go. Voting is tribal and some of us in urban centres are mobilised to make it look national. There is no Nigerian nation. If there was from 1970, for instance, Nigeria would have been better than Dubai. But the politics of tribe distorts and destroys the economy. And if we don’t resolve it, we won’t get a Nigerian nation. Journalists are like worms eating the corpse of a Nigeria that is not, than allowing Nigeria to be alive and allow it to be and grow up.
Why and you blaming journalists? Journalists report and mirror society back at itself. They are like spiritual guardians of society. Don’t you think the problem with Nigeria is lack of elite consensus or a vision or what is usually called leadership problem?
No, I believe that the leadership thing is a scam. Late Professor China Achebe who wrote on it was probably uninformed to say Nigeria’s problem is leadership. If you go back and read the essay he wrote on it, you will find that it is empty and unsupported by facts. He was too full of assertions himself. And as for journalists, yes they report, but they report in context. That is why a journalist from the Southeast and another from Southwest reporting on the same issue, would report differently and you reading it would wonder whether they had reported the same issue.
Are you saying Nigeria’s problem is not leadership?.
Nigeria does not have leadership issue. Let me give you an example. Japan has a tradition of not having strong -willed leaders, yet it is the third biggest economy in the world. Everything works there and their leadership has little role in driving the economy. So if an instance of a thing exists, it is a proof that it is not a necessary factor. In another instance, people attribute the Dubai miracle to leadership. At best what it comes to is that leadership would work in some place, in some others non-leadership would work, which makes need for the resolution of that discrepancy. But so many countries have triumphed with leadership and others with non-leadership.
How is it so? Is it culture or a kind of transcendence that gives a world view of things?
Eh-eh. Before Caesar there was Buddha. Japan is a society built on Buddha-Confucian template. So it does not become necessary that a leader is indicated in the sense in which we think it. See for instance, Liberian President, George Weah has started travelling all over the place like African leaders. In Japan, their Prime Minister hardly travels. Why? Because they have a Ministry of International Trade and Industry. They are the people travelling. If they wanted 6,000 teachers like Weah wants from Nigeria, the bureaucrats would come and discuss and through bureaucratisation everything is approved.
So leadership is a scam. Nigerian needs a Buddha more than a Caesar, that is a world view as a basis of assumptions, an integrative view on how to share power, resolve ethnic conflict and so on. A Buddha is a generic for a deep scholar with a central concept that would resolve all the problems we have. But the state of Nigeria scholarship is so poor and you can’t really have hope and you have those trying to pass on new ideas without a breakthrough to an audience because the people have not been brought up to read or think independently.
Let me say this: Problems of society do not offer themselves for solution by society. They first of all hide from being seen because they want to keep on leaving. So to spot a problem, even to problematise an issue calls for talent, if not genius. It is not easy, that side of spotting a problem.You may be sick and yet you do not know. So Nigeria is yet to have such persons. It is a black man thing.
What? You sound pessimistic and are making it a racist issue
Yes, racism is factual.
But Blacks have been known to build civilisations, like the pyramids in Egypt. So that feat is still in their DNA waiting to be triggered by the genius you mentioned earlier. Don’t you thing so?
I don’t know that blacks built the pyramids.
That is a long story established by the renowned, late Senegalese historiographer, physicist and linguist, Professor Cheik Anta Diop whose challenge to Oxford Prof Trevor Roper’s hermitic hypotheses led to the mummified Pharaohs being exhumed and testified for melanin. Factor into that Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa thesis and the recent revelation in a declassified colonial document where an official was quoted as saying that if Africans were allowed to develop their pantheistic religion, they would overtake the world. And then consider too the over three hundred years of slavery which not only destroyed the African society and institutions but affected it where it hurts most, the psychic structure.
There is a saying, I think from Delta state, that my papa get am before no be property. Look, I don’t want to get into things that are confusing to me. The Chinese were probably as good as the blacks way back. The Europeans and Arabs humiliated them and they recovered within living memory. That is open to you and me. The Indians were humiliated by Britain, they have recovered. Vietnam was also humiliated and they have also recovered. But come to Africa? I have strong academic reasons to doubt the past people are glorifying because there are no signs of it. If you go to China, for instance, you read Sun Tzu on The Art of War, written three thousand years ago. Where are the books Africans have done? And you have civilisation without writing? Was it only sequestrated in Egypt and it did not flow down. The Koreans and Japanese learnt the art of writing from China, just as Arabs probably learnt form the Jews and spread it through the whole of Arabia. So did our own only stopped in Egypt? What I am saying is that we should all be troubled that the world is leaving us behind and not just be proud of a thousand years ago history.
As I am seating outside here now, there is no electricity, no potable water. What is all these got to do with the past? How can we be in 2019 and a president is appointing only his people into key positions and you are insisting that the Blackman is rational? And many prominent persons from his region, except one or two, have not criticised it. They forget that, like the toilet syndrome, it would soon flush back over all of us.
This brings us to the cold calculations for 2019 polls. You seem to have the view that the strongman of Southwest and even Nigerian politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, like the ancient Athenian General Alcibiades, has walked into political land-mines. How did you come to such a conclusion?
Number one, let me clear up the Alcibiades syndrome. He was a brilliant Athenian General who crossed over at one point to the Spartans and when the Spartans got it right by winning a war between the two countries, he was supposed to broker piece between the warring parties. But he refused to accept his own errors. So, rather than accept his own errors and save himself and his community, he wanted to play smart and wise and that led to further tragedy. What this means is that at times when you are wrong, you should have the humility as a strategist to pull back because you have got it wrong, rather than trying to rationalise the irrationalities. That is about Alcibiades and I think that is what Tinubu is doing currently. It should be clear to him like his wife has suggested in an interview that he has been worsted.
How do you mean?
He has been worsted. He aligned with people who his wife said, to quote her, “thrashed him”. And I don’t know whether her choice of words was deliberate or intuitive.
But remember she said in that interview that her husband is still going about his work for the good of the country…?
No. Listen. President Muhammad Buhari doesn’t hate this country, unless you are able to establish the fact that the man who thrashed you hates the country, then you can make a tenable argument. But if Buhari also loves this country which you also love and you are playing at cross purposes, then you are raising issues which you have not resolved.
Are you saying Tinubu now lacks the power he once had to ensure Buhari’s emergence as his party’s presidential candidate and then eventually to win the 2015 presidential poll?
No, the power he had at home to deliver that mandate is a power of the past. Whether he has that power in 2019 is yet to be seen. But what is clear to every observer now is that he lost in the peace of the war he was essential to winning. He aligned with Buhari’s faction to defeat ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and when the victory came, he was thrashed to quote his wife. So he lost in the post war calculations of his efforts. This is much clear by the admittance of his own wife.
How do you think this came about taking a deeper look into Nigerian power politics?
How it came about is simple. Look, some Nigerians are politically illiterate; people are either unduly self-serving or assume way realities and the press is part of it. There was this media magic that there was a pan-Nigerian alliance against Jonathan. And some of us wrote that it was a G-2 alliance. G-2, which we classified as the Northern and Southwestern alliance, which won the civil war. They aligned to sack a South south man who they could not tolerate to run shop. At the end of the business what has revealed itself is that President Buhari has shown himself, by the assessment of many Nigerians, to be a Northerner, which confirmed what we said at the beginning.
So, what as happened is that in that alliance, one party has sacked the other. But Tinubu should have known as we have said in severally, even in books, that Chief Obafemi Awolowo made the same mistakes. He aligned with ex-Head of State General Yakubu Gowon and Gowon dismissed him from power after the civil war. Yes, the records are there.
No, It wasn’t a dismissal. Chief Awolowo explained it on one of his books, Adventures in Power, that he had to quit when Gowon reneged on his promise to hand over power to the civilians. I think that is what happened?
You are saying dismissal from office. I am saying dismissal from power. Do you know that while Awolowo was serving Gowon, Gowon had crack detectives watching every move of Awolowo. He was under complete suspicion by Gowon.
How did you know that?
I have documented this in my book, How and Why the Yorubas Fought and lost the Civil War, and in it I quoted Yoruba sources. Gowon spied on Awolowo completely, even though Awolowo was his second in command. So he never trusted Awolowo with a line. That is dismissal from power, which is more important than dismissal from office. Awolowo was used to serve interests he did not understand. I give you an example. Gowon swore he is one of those who designed Abuja; for the capital to be moved from Lagos. And when Gowon was overthrown, the new Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed spoke in the same vein, which means decisions were taken on Abuja before that coup and Gowon was part of it but Awolowo never knew!
So the northern arm of the ruling establishment or the Supreme military Council, had designs on Nigeria which they never let Awolowo know, who Gowon was of course spying on. And you can’t spy on your second in command if you have him in trust. I am quoting Yoruba opinion on this.
So what has all these got to do with 2019 power politics?
Just like what happened to Awo as I analysed in that book. What happened was that Awolowo dismissed himself from his local power to support a faction to fight his other enemy. And when the victory came, he had no battalions at his command, which is the basis of negotiations of post -war victory basis. He had supported Gowon with all his battalions, power, moral and everything. And when the war ended, Gowon was in charge of all instruments of power and he used them against Awolowo. This is exactly what Tinubu has repeated. Tunibu went into alliance with Buhari without securing his own power in the southwest to be impregnable to competitor forces. He had no reason for going into that kind of alliance.
We said it in that book that it is when a state is to be imperilled that factions will want to further imperil the state so that they can negotiate at the point of disintegration for survival. You don’t go into power game for the love of country but for the preservation of the legitimacy of your own people and then by extension the country. You don’t hand over your territory to hegemonists because you claim to love the country, no, no no. The other person is not in it for love of country, so you, a partner cannot claim to be in it for love of country. That is like fooling yourself. Let me give you an example. Imagine you have a rich uncle and you go and hire armed robbers to help you rob him after which you all will share the loot. In the course of the robbery, your uncle is killed and you swear that you didn’t ask them to kill your uncle. But the agreement you have entered into involves killing.
That should have been clear to you from the beginning. The actual business of robbery is armed robbery and it involves people acting on instincts when they meet dangers. That is number one. Two, the robbers can steal the money and refused to give you a kobo. And there is nothing wrong in it because all of you are engaged in the business of fraud. So, it should not be miraculous to you that your partners in fraud are continuing in the same tradition. These are the things a strategist should know. You secure yourself. Robbery is a game. Power is a game. They robbed Jonathan of his power. Tinubu should have ensured his independence, post -victory. Awolowo made the same mistake. Tinubu should have learnt from it.
We are looking at the game of power.?
Yes, that is my specialty.
Power as you know depends on appearances and not reality and to be able to play it constantly you need to be re-strategising on the go. Tinubu is a master of the game and has always shown the capacity to bounce back on many occasions, right from the NADECO – June 12 days, to his fights with ex-President Obasanjo over new LGAs and even standing alone with on one party, the Alliance for Democracy, during and after the 2013 polls—?
No, people often think they can magically come out of such situations as we have painted. Life does not often work that way. I have said it before that Awo and Tinubu are strategists in their territories. You know, they are like one-leg footballers. Some of them are very good and damaging, but the point is that they are not able to play two legs like Pele did. So they have limitations.
Be specific. What kind of limitations do you think Awo and Tinubu have?
Let me tell you something that is personal. In the height of Tinubu’s reign, for reasons not quite clear to me, he has not reached out to the East. I wrote an essay in which I said I have a programme by which he can do that. It is not a moral battle like you say between Christian and Satan or progressives and conservatives so that you are righteous, which is unprofessional for a strategist. It is not relevant that you are right. As a professional soldier, if you are sent to capture Iraq, your duty is not to think whether you are right of wrong. It is not that it is amoral. But it is not part of your calculations by characterising the others as bad or good and you are righteous or the other being guilty.
Get the job Done?
That is it. In the power game like we said in my book, alliances are like shifting sands. There is nothing permanent between Buhari and Tinubu. Immediately Buhari knows that Tinubu cannot go to the Southeast, it depreciates the value of Tinubu before Buhari because he has no alliance partner he can move to. Tinubu, I suspect, can never go to the South south because South south people feel he did Jonathan in. So that weakens his power. There is something that is called alliance politics. War does not end with winning, there is stabilising the society after the war is won, even welcoming back your enemy It is only an impotent man you can give your wife to keep if you were to travel and expect to find her intact when you come back.
Are you saying Tinubu should have consummated an alliance with the east while he had one with the North?
No, not consummated. Just a door to reaching out and coming in, rather than closing it up. You can enter alliance just like he did with the north, but keep it fluid so that he can come in and go out.
Do you think the power game is part of the assignment the President gave Tinubu to reconcile factions in the party?
Look, at the point he was called for this assignment, he has been defeated. He has been ‘thrashed’ to quote his wife again. I wrote in my FaceBook page recently, updating on the previous pieces on him. Look, President Buhari purposely gave ex-Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola three ministries so that as Fashola performs, his reputation will drive away the Tinubu myth. But unfortunately for them, it did not work. In Ondo state where Rotimi Akeredolu won the governorship, Tinubu’s input was against him. Those who won were the Abuja forces made up of party chairman Odigie Oyegun and forces represented by Kaduna governor, Malam Nasri el-Rufai, all against Tinubu. He has no connection with Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, who has his own ambitions to fulfil. The only person with him is Ogeni Rauf Aregbesola, governor of Osun State and Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State.
Even in Lagos, things are foggy. The party has retained Oyegun and state chapter Chairman, Henry Ajomale for one year. They may be quarrelling with the imposition but they cannot sack Ajomale, so APC as a party in Lagos today is under Ajomale. These are facts nobody should shy away from.
That is where I think you are stretching your analyses too far. Ajomale is Tinubu man anyway?
How? Was Oyegun not a Tinubu man? Tinubu handpicked him for that post. As the sands shifts, Oyegun knows there is more solidity with Buhari than with Tinubu. These people know that it is all a fluid game and they are all interested in their power as part of the game. That is the politics of power. Ajomale is interested in his own power, after all he is not Tinubu’s son?.
Look at the rubbish they did to him at the National Assembly during the election of principal officers; former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal whom he helped to be Speaker drove the knife through Tinubu’s back when it was time to pick between Femi Gbajiagbamila and others. He worked against Gbajiagbamila. So this game did not start today.
Are you saying the Southwest cannot play a major role in 2019?
No, that is not what I am saying. The analyses of power as it involves Tinubu is what I am looking at and not the Southwest. I am only talking about the politics of power as it deals with Tinubu. Even if the Lagos crowd conspire to sack Ajomale, he would be given a post in Abuja. Look, they are in serious trouble in Lagos. It is not as easy as you are seeing it, unless Tinubu leaves APC.